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The following terms are words that I would like to define over the next few years. There will be terms that will be added to this list, I am sure. Also, every article I read will change my definition slightly, and therefore, this is not a static list of definitions, but rather a work-in-progress. Many of the terms vary based on the different authors, but have a similar meanings. Therefore, while creating this list, I must also map backwards, from definition to term.

Related to Visual Representations:

Visual representation (AKA spatial representation, depictive representation, graphical representation): 1. a parallel processing system, present themselves simultaneously and are characterized by their spatial arrangement (Vekiri, 2002) 2. external drawings and internal images (Schwartz & Heiser, 2005). 3. Pictures, sculptures, or physical models. A depictive representation consists of iconic signs. They possess specific inherent structural features that allow us to read off relational information, and they are associated with the content they represent through these common structural characteristics. (Schnotz & Bannert, 2003) 4. Notational (reduced view of reality) vs. Non-notational (complex pictures that mimic reality) representations. Notational representations: diagrams, maps, graphs, charts. (Vekiri, 2002)

Verbal representation (AKA descriptive representation): 1. usually presented and decoded in linear time (Vekiri, 2002) 2. Spoken or written texts, mathematical equations and logical expressions. A descriptive representation consists of symbols describing an object. These symbols have an arbitrary structure, and they are related to the content they represent by means of a convention. (Schnotz & Bannert, 2003)

Covariant Representations: representations that do not resemble their their referent, yet possess structural features that allow us to read off relational information. Graphs, speedometers, Venn diagrams, are examples of covariant representations (Schwartz & Heiser, 2005).

External representations: 1. knowledge and structures in the environment such as physical symbols or objects and can be classified as verbal or visual representations. (Zhang, 1997) 2. versions of a model physically available to others (Gilbert et al. 2008).

Internal representations (AKA mental images, visualizations): 1. knowledge and structure in memory, as propositions, productions, schemas, neural networks, or other forms (Zhang, 1997) 2. versions of a model available mentally to an individual person (Gilbert et al. 2008).

Visualization: 1. the process of creating a visual image in one’s mind (APA, 2022) 2. The formation of an internal representation from an external representation (Gilbert et al. 2008) 3. A process for knowledge production and growth in science (Evagrou et al., 2015)

Imagery: 1. cognitive generation of sensory input from the five senses, individually or collectively, which is recalled from experience or self-generated in a non-experienced form (APA, 2022) 2. The process of working with mental spatial representations (Schwartz & Heiser, 2005). 3. The construction of internal images of objects that are not physically present (Vekiri, 2002).

Gestalt psychology: a psychological approach that focuses on the dynamic organization of experience into patterns or configurations. Gestalt psychology holds that experience is an organized whole of which the pieces are an integral part. Applied to the study of learning, insight, memory, social psychology, and art (APA, 2022).

Cognitive theory of multimedia learning: principles to guide designers of multimedia and e-learning in the presentation of textual, graphical, video and audio information for optimal learning. Each principle is backed by research comparing different multimedia learning conditions to determine which results in better student learning (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

Redundancy principle: learners can learn better just with animation and narration. The visual text information, which is presented simultaneously to the verbal information, becomes a redundant material (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

Contiguity principle: align words to corresponding graphics (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

Related to Cognitive Load Theory:

Cognitive load theory: describes how humans process information and learn. The key idea of this theory is that working memory is limited and that cognitive load is placed on this working memory. (Sweller, 1988, Sweller et al., 1998)

Cognitive load (AKA Mental effort): the relative demand imposed by a particular task, in terms of mental resources required, also knows as mental effort (APA, 2022). There are three types of cognitive load: intrinsic, germane, and extraneous (Sweller et al., 1998).

Intrinsic cognitive load: the essential load for comprehending the material (Sweller et al., 1998).

Extraneous cognitive load: generated by the manner in which information is presented to learners and under the control of instructional designers and teachers (Sweller et al., 1998).

Germane cognitive load: activated when the learner engages in learning and creating schemas (Sweller et al., 1998).

Expertise reversal effect: effect that describes the effectiveness of different types of teaching based on prior knowledge of the learner. For novice learners, especially during the initial stages of skill acquisition, comprehensive forms of explicit guidance facilitate learning domain-specific schemas. For more advanced and knowledgeable learners and during later phases of skill acquisition, various forms of reduced or minimal guidance (such as problem solving or exploring tasks) could be more effective than explicit guidance (Kalyuga & Singh, 2016).


APA. (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology. Apa.org. https://dictionary.apa.org/

Gilbert, J. K. (2008). Visualization: An emergent field of practice and enquiry in science education. In Visualization: Theory and practice in science education (pp. 3-24). Springer, Dordrecht.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. john Wiley & sons.

Evagorou, M., Erduran, S., & Mäntylä, T. (2015). The role of visual representations in scientific practices: from conceptual understanding and knowledge generation to ‘seeing’how science works. International Journal of STEM Education2(1), 1-13.

Kalyuga, S., & Singh, A. M. (2016). Rethinking the boundaries of cognitive load theory in complex learning. Educational Psychology Review28(4), 831-852.

Schnotz, W., & Bannert, M. (2003). Construction and interference in learning from multiple representation. Learning and instruction13(2), 141-156.

Schwartz, D., & Heiser, J. (2005). Spatial Representations and Imagery in Learning. In R. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology, pp. 283-298). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive science12(2), 257-285.

Sweller, van Merrienboer, J. J. ., & Paas, F. G. W. . (1998). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design. Educational Psychology Review, 10(3), 251–296.

Vekiri, I. (2002). What is the value of graphical displays in learning?. Educational psychology review14(3), 261-312.

Zhang, J. (1997). The Nature Problem of External in Solving Representations. Cognitive Science , 21(2), 179-217.

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